Fall 2011 Review: Boss

10 Dec

Boss wastes no time in its pilot.  Its first scene is a doctor letting the titular “Boss,” Kelsey Grammer’s Tom Kane, current mayor of Chicago, know that he has a degenerative brain disease, which will slowly deteriorate his higher and then lower mental functions.  Eventually he will barely be able to function and will need full time care.  He takes the news, reminds the doctor that the report is confidential and moves on with his day.  He makes a speech on behalf of the current gorvernor, but we soon learn that even though he’s nothing but kind in person, he’s looking to unseat the governor with a young state treasurer.  He offers to put his support behind the treasurer in exchange for favors later.  A find of Indian artifacts in a graveyard throws off his big legacy project, an expansion to O’Hare and Kane engages in a variety of different hardcore old-style political maneuvering to get his airport expansion back on track.  This includes paying off the Indians with building contracts, tacking on an amendment to give him all decisions over the Indian artifacts to a necessary trash bill, and violently assaulting the alderman responsible for the contractor who discovered the Indian artifacts and talked about the discovery on TV.  The airport expansion seems like his most important legacy and he’s willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get it done.  That of course entails telling no one about his medical condition and more than that having an associate of his associate violently threaten the doctor about not revealing any confidential information.

We see a little bit of his family as well.  His wife is seen at a school dressing down a contractor who was supposed to bring the schools up to some minimum condition.  It’s clear that she’s a veteran of playing old-school political games as well.  At home, it seems like things are strained between them but there’s obviously some respect.  We meet Kane’s daughter as well who has the strangest plot of the episode.  She is working as a medical clinic and after helping a young African-American and his uncle, tracks down the kid for some drugs which she then throws away.  Also, she appears to not be so close with her father; they talk briefly, but he doesn’t have her cell number.

There was also a gratuitous stairway sex scene between the state treasurer and Kane’s advisor that I don’t exactly understand the purpose for, but okay.

Overall, Boss used its first episode fairly wisely and ended up being a much more interesting pilot than I expected.  It helped us learn a fair amount about our main character, and enough to make some bigger guesses at character relationships while setting several plot strands into motion.  These strands seem likely to crash into one another at one point in the future.

Kane has the making of a fascinating character, struggling to do good both for himself but also for his city, while willing to cross many lines to do it.  Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, this is all complicated by a premise of a disease which is a ticking clock, limited his time to get things done.  The political arena is ripe for a character drama.  Kane is old school and hard and certainly no Jeb Bartlett from The West Wing, nor Tommy Carcetti from The Wire, though maybe he’d be more similar to Carcetti’s predecessor Clarence Royce if we ever saw a drama about him.  The first episode was a chance to see Kane display the full range of his political tactics and watch them work so we can understand why he’s both a respected and feared mayor and so we have a baseline for when situations inevitably go less smoothly as the season goes on.  There’s a host of relationships to be explored, between Kane and his wife and daughter as well as between Kane and his long time staff members.  He’s going to have to continue to maneuver to keep his airport project on track as well as push his favored candidate for governor from behind the scenes.  Honestly, I think the show sounds intriguing even without the looming medical condition.

Will I watch again?  I’m not sure why I expected to not like the show at all, but I didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s earned at least a couple more episodes.

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